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Brenda  Miller 


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BARBARA  HASKELL:  Each  of  the 
pieces  in  this  show  is  based  on  a  sys- 
tem. Would  you  describe  that  system. 
BRENDA  MILLER:  The  system  is  rela- 
tively simple.  I  use  numerical  sys- 
tems to  determine  the  number  of 
impressions  which  in  turn  cause  dif- 
ferent densities.  I  chose  the  alphabet 
because  it  has  every  kind  of  linear 
mark  that  you  can  find.  I  wanted  to 
see  what  would  happen  if  I  used  all 
these  marks — a  circle,  a  curve,  a 
diagonal,  a  horizontal.  The  alphabet 
gave  me  the  size  and  the  shape. 
First,  I  use  the  alphabet  in  its  own 
order,  so  there  is  A-Z  in  normal  se- 
quence. I  then  start  again.  On  the 
second  impression  Z  is  eliminated. 
I  keep  eliminating  the  last  letter 
until  the  entire  alphabet  is  stamped 
in  one  place  from  A  on  top  to  Z  on 
bottom. 

You  talked  about  having  three  parts 
to  your  work,  the  drawing,  the  dia- 
gram and  the  wall  installation. 
Well,  the  drawing  is  less  of  a  part.  I 
use  the  drawings  to  check  out  the 
diagrams.  The  diagrams  act  like  maps 
which  tell  me  how  to  make  the  in- 
stallations. 

Do  you  feel  your  pieces  exist  apart 
from  their  physical  manifestations? 
They  always  exist.  For  me  they  exist 
in  a  number  of  ways.  They  exist  in  a 
diagram  that  is  the  map  of  the  work 
and  they  exist  when  put  into  their 
physical  space.  The  Indians  in  New 
Mexico  make  sand  paintings  which 
can  travel.  There  was  no  need  to 
preserve  art;  the  same  drawing  was 
passed  through  the  generations,  yet 
each  transient  drawing  was  perma- 
nent. 

What  is  your  view  toward  materality? 
Your  earlier  string  pieces  had  a  strong 
sense  of  materials  about  them,  and 
the  rubber  stamp  pieces  have  much 


less  material  impact.  Is  that  impor- 
tant at  all? 

Yes  .  .  .  but  my  sense  of  materials 
has  to  do  with  finding  the  best  ma- 
terial for  the  work.  The  materials  are 
important,  but  they're  not  the  goal. 
The  pieces  are  not  precious  objects. 
I  really  wanted  to  move  away  from 
the  idea  of  preciousness. 

In  the  stamp  pieces,  if  you  look  at 
the  diagram  you  understand  the 
underlying  system,  but  if  you  look  at 
the  pieces  themselves  there  is  a 
sense  of  mystery  about  what  exactly 
the  concept  or  the  system  is. 

The  systems  are  not  that  complicated, 
but  I  do  admit  I  like  intrigue. 

Do  you  see  the  systems  as  being 
visually  evident  in  the  work? 
Yes.  They  can  exist  at  different  times 
or  sometimes  exist  or  not  exist  in 
their  physical  forms,  but  they  are  not 
separate. 

Do  you  use  the  system  as  a  means 
rather  than  an  end  in  itself? 

Yes,  as  a  means. 

You've  mentioned  that  you  think  of 
yourself  as  a  sculptor.  Do  you  want  to 
go  into  that? 

I  think  of  myself  as  a  sculptor  al- 
though my  feeling  is  that  it  is  un- 
fortunate that  we  have  to  be  one  or 
the  other.  When  these  pieces  are 
finally  done  they  are  three  dimen- 
sional and  they  are  conceived  of  as 
three  dimensional  even  in  the  rubber 
stamp  pieces. 

Because  of  the  overlay? 

Yes,  the  impressions  cause  density. 

You  can  see  the  density. 

You  mentioned  that  your  first  pieces 

were  rugs.   Is  that  how  you  started 

out? 

No,  I  didn't,  I  was  a  painter.  When 

I  stopped  painting  I  began  to  make 


rugs.  I  was  trying  to  make  a  very  soft 
surface  and  still  use  the  same  kind  of 
image  that  I  had  painted.  At  a  certain 
point  I  became  less  interested  in  the 
image  and  more  interested  in  the 
back  of  the  cloth.  Now  I  think  more 
about  the  materials  I  use  as  opposed 
to  letting  the  materials  lead  me.  I 
think  it  works  hand  in  hand;  you 
can't  help  but  let  your  material  lead 
you,  but  also  you  can  select  the 
material. 

You  don't  seem  very  interested  in 
color  apart  from  the  given  color  of 
the  materials. 

I've  chosen  to  eliminate  color  be- 
cause it  interferes  with  the  configura- 
tion of  the  piece.  Some  of  the 
changes  are  so  subtle  that  any  altera- 
tion of  color  would  alter  the  con- 
figuration. The  first  stamp  piece  I  did 
was  in  blue  ink  because  I  happened 
to  have  a  blue  ink  pad.  When  I 
finished  the  piece  and  I  looked  at  it 
itdisappeared  intothewall.  The  blue 
pencil  is  an  editing  pencil  and  I  use 
it  with  that  in  mind. 

You  were  actively  involved  with  the 
women's  movement.  Do  you  think 
that  influenced  the  way  your  work 
went  oryourability  to  use  materials? 
In  a  sense  I  think  that  it  did.  I 
believe  that  it  allowed  me  to  be  more 
courageous  about  what  I  wanted  to 
do.  I  realized  that  I  had  nothing  to 
lose. 

You  once  talked  about  the  fact  that 
your  work  was  literalist,  that  you 
were  interested  in  a  real  space,  not 
an  illusionary  space. 
Yes.  I  work  in  a  real  space.  When 
I  make  the  stamp  pieces  there  are 
x  number  of  impressions.  I  did  an 
edition  of  one  of  these  pieces  and 
it  took  a  while  to  convince  the  printer 
to  not  just  set  the  type  all  at  once  and 
photograph  it.  Each  impression  had 


to  go  through  the  press,  in  this  case, 
thirteen  times.  And  it  was  all  printed 
in  black  ink  and  he  couldn't  under- 
stand why  it  had  to  be  printed  that 
way  because  it  would  have  been  so 
much  simpler  to  do  it  the  other  way 
and  so  much  cheaper  too.  He  was 
making  more  money  but  he  was  an 
honorable  man  and  it  took  a  lot  of 
explaining  and  convincing  that  this 
was  very  important.  You  can  clearly 
see  the  different  letters  in  the  dif- 
ferent impressions. 

Do  you  use  the  structure  or  grid  sys- 
tem as  a  way  of  working  through 
these  ideas  about  density? 
The  interesting  thing  is  that  I  made 
ceiling/floor  pieces  initially  that 
made  different  kinds  of  densities.  I 
mean,  if  you  had  the  identical  thing 
on  the  floor  as  on  the  ceiling,  the 
configuration  would  be  very  dif- 
ferent. When  I  began  working  on  the 
walls  I  began  working  with  a  differ- 
ent kind  of  density.  You  could  leave 
these  big  long  wide  spaces  and  still 
create  a  kind  of  density. 
Do  you  adopt  a  system  as  a  means 
of  getting  rid  of  compositional  deci- 
sions? 

Absolutely.  I  make  the  initial  deci- 
sion and  choose  to  stay  with  it.  I 
select  a  specific  "grammar"  to  work 
within. 

Are  any  of  your  decisions  about  the 
pieces  made  empirically,  or  do  you 
work  from  an  absolutely  precon- 
ceived system? 

Well,  both.  I  first  start  working  with 
the  pieces  and  they  are  made  be- 
cause that  is  what  I  want  to  do.  I 
make  a  piece  and  then  I  diagram  it 
and  then  I  work  from  the  diagram. 
A  diagram  or  piece  is  capable  of  gen- 
erating itself.  The  plan  always  exists 
whether  or  not  it's  written  down 
first. 


Brenda  Miller 

1941     Born  in  the  Bronx,  New  York 
1963     Certificate,  Parsons  School  of  Design,  New  York 
1965     B.F.A.,  University  of  New  Mexico,  Albuquerque 
1967     M.F.A.,  Tulane  University,  New  Orleans,  Loui- 
siana, 
Lives  in  New  York  City 

Individual  Exhibitions 

1974  Samangallery,  Genoa,  Italy 
Arte  Per,  Rome 

1975  City  University  Graduate  Center,  New  York 

Croup  Exhibitions 

1971  Greene  Street,  New  York.  Two  exhibitions, 
Winter  and  Fall. 

The  Aldrich  Museum  of  Contemporary  Art, 
Ridgefield,  Connecticut,  "26  Contemporary 
Women  Artists,"  April  18-)une  13.  Illustrated 
catalogue,  with  introduction  by  Lucy  R. 
Lippard. 

1972  John  Weber  Gallery,  New  York,  "Group 
Show,"  January-February.  Exhibition  selected 
by  Carl  Andre;  included  work  by  Laurace 
James,  Mary  Obering,  Nancy  Holt  and  Andre. 
The  Museum  of  Modern  Art,  New  York, 
Member's  Penthouse,  "Untitled  IV,"  April. 
Kunsthaus,  Hamburg,  Germany,  "Gedok 
American  Women  Artist  Show,"  April  14-May 
14.  Illustrated  catalogue,  with  introduction  by 
Lil  Picard. 

John  Weber  Gallery,  New  York,  "Group 
Show."  Exhibition  included  work  by  Nancy 
Holt,  Laurace  James,  Carl  Andre,  Hans 
Haacke,  Mary  Obering. 

Kingsboro  Community  College,  Brooklyn, 
New  York. 

The  Kenan  Center,  Lockport,  New  York,  "Ten 
Artists*  (*  who  also  happen  to  be  women)," 
November  17,  1972-January  14,  1973.  Illus- 
trated catalogue,  with  text  by  Lucy  R.  Lippard. 
Exhibition  traveled  to  the  Michael  C.  Rocke- 
feller Arts  Center  Gallery,  Fredonia  State  Uni- 
versity College,  Fredonia,  New  York,  January 
19-February  18. 

1973  Whitney  Museum  of  American  Art,  New  York, 
"1973  Biennial  Exhibition  of  Contemporary 
American  Art,"  January  10-March  18.  Illus- 
trated catalogue. 

New  York  Cultural  Center,  "Soft  as  Art," 
March  20-May  6.  Illustrated  catalogue,  with 
text  by  Mario  Amaya. 

Museum  Boymans-Van  Beuningen,  Rotter- 
dam, The  Netherlands,  September. 

1974  Museum  of  the  Civic  Center,  Philadelphia, 
"Women's  Work-American  Art  1974  " 

The    Clocktower,    New   York,    "Discussions: 
WorksAA'ords."  May  11 -June  1. 
The   Women's    Interart    Center,    New   York, 
"Wall  Sculpture." 

1975  William  Patterson  College  of  New  Jersey, 
Wayne.  Exhibition  organized  by  John  Perrault. 


Articles 

(not  including  reviews) 

Broos,  Kees.  Museum  journal ,  "een  muurobject  van 

Brenda  Miller,"  series  18,  no.  5,  October  1973,  p.  214, 

illus. 

Tower,  Susan.  "The  Object  Perceived/The  Object 

Apprehended,"  Artforum,  vol.  12,  January  1974,  pp. 

40-42,  illus. 

Weatherford,    Elizabeth.    "Crafts    for   Art's    Sake," 

Ms.  Magazine,  vol.  1,  May  1973,  pp.  28-32,  illus. 

Catalogue 

Dimensions  are  in  inches,  height  preceding  width. 
All  works  are  from  1975  and  are  lent  by  the  artist 
unless  otherwise  noted. 

Wall  Installations 

V*  inch  rubber  stamp  with  black  ink  and  blue  pencil 
on  wall,  52  x  52: 

1.  Diagonal  Alphabet  (26)  Interior  North 

2.  Diagonal  Alphabet  (26)  Interior  South 

3.  Diagonal  Alphabet  (26)  Interior  East 

4.  Diagonal  Alphabet  (26)  Interior  West 

5.  Diagonal  Alphabet  (26)  Exterior  North 

6.  Diagonal  Alphabet  (26)  Exterior  South 

7.  Diagonal  Alphabet  (26)  Exterior  East 

8.  Diagonal  Alphabet  (26)  Exterior  West 

Drawings 

Black  ink  on  paper,  17  x  17: 

9.  Diagonal  Alphabet  (26)  Interior  North 

10.  Diagonal  Alphabet  (26)  Interior  South 
Sperone  Westwater  Fischer,  New  York 

11.  Diagonal  Alphabet  (26)  Interior  West 
Nell  E.  Wendler,  London 

12.  Diagonal  Alphabet  (26)  Interior  East 

13.  Diagonal  Alphabet  (26)  Exterior  North 
Private  collection,  the  Netherlands 

14.  Diagonal  Alphabet  (26)  Exterior  South 
Sperone  Westwater  Fischer,  New  York 

15.  Diagonal  Alphabet  (26)  Exterior  East 

16.  Diagonal  Alphabet  (26)  Exterior  West 

Diagrams 

Black  ink  on  graph  paper,  17  x  17: 

17.  Diagonal  Alphabet  (26)  Interior  North 

18.  Diagonal  Alphabet  (26)  Interior  South 

19.  Diagonal  Alphabet  (26)  Interior  East 

20.  Diagonal  Alphabet  (26)  Interior  West 

21.  Diagonal  Alphabet  (26)  Exterior  North 

22.  Diagonal  Alphabet  (26)  Exterior  South 

23.  Diagonal  Alphabet  (26)  Exterior  East 

24.  Diagonal  Alphabet  (26)  Exterior  West 


December  22,  1975  — January  18,  1976 

Whitney  Museum  of  American  Art 

945  Madison  Avenue 
New  York,  New  York  10021 

Cover:  Diagonal  Alphabet  (261  Exterior  East ,  1975 
Photograph  by  Eeva-inkeri